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COLUMN SEVENTY-FIVE, SEPTEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
BY JAMES BENNET
GINGERLY, ARABS QUESTION SUICIDE BOMBINGS
NYTimes.com Article: Gingerly, Arabs Question Suicide Bombings
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2002 11:18:29 -0400 (EDT)
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July 3, 2002
Gingerly, Arabs Question Suicide Bombings
By JAMES BENNET
JERUSALEM, July 2 - It has been muffled by Israel's latest
military offensive in the West Bank and the Bush administration's demands for
the ouster of Yasir Arafat, but a debate is under way among Palestinians over
Criticism of such attacks is made in code and pitched to
Palestinian self-interest rather than broader moral concerns. The critics are
trying to avoid alienating Palestinians who feel that any weapon is legitimate
when turned against Israelis, whom they view as stealing their land and using
overwhelming force to keep it.
Like President Bush's demand for democratic change and new
leaders, the criticism of suicide bombing cuts to the heart of competing
Palestinian visions for statehood, of the proper means for achieving it, and of
the deference that should be paid to Israeli or American public opinion.
“You have to appeal to people's self-interest, in terms
of what works and what doesn't work,'' said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian
legislator from Ramallah.
Dr. Ashrawi was among 55 Palestinian politicians and
intellectuals who published an unusual appeal to fellow Palestinians on June 19
in the Arabic-language newspaper Al Quds. It called for a reassessment of
”military operations that target civilians in Israel'' and urged those
behind them to “stop pushing our youth to carry out these operations.''
The letter said the attacks were not “producing any
results except confirming the hatred, malice and loathing between the two
peoples'' and endangering “the possibility that the two peoples will live side
by side in peace in two neighboring states.''
The day the advertisement was published, a suicide bomber
killed six people at a Jerusalem bus stop. That and the new Israeli offensive
into the West Bank, begun after another suicide bombing just the day before,
shouldered the development aside.
But among Palestinians, the appeal reverberated in
conversations and the Arabic news media. It continued to run in Al Quds for
several days, gathering more than 500 backers, some through the Internet.
A rebuttal was published elsewhere, calling for the use of
“all ways and all means'' of ”armed struggle.'' It gained about 150
Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, a leader of the Islamic group Hamas,
bitterly denounced the signers of the first petition, which he called “the
appeal to declare war on the Palestinian resistance.'' Despite such strong
criticism, none of the original petitioners have reported any threats.
Even some Palestinian politicians who said they opposed
attacks on civilians shied away from the petition, calling it one-sided for
focusing on Palestinian attacks.
President Bush has denounced suicide attackers as
“murderers.'' Yet even signers of the appeal balked at directly criticizing
the bombers, who are called martyrs but are revered in nationalist as well as
religious terms, pitied as desperate victims or romanticized as patriots who
strike back against Israeli tanks with their only weapons their own bodies.
This help explains why, though a narrow majority of
Palestinians supports suicide bombing, a far broader majority opposes arresting
those behind the attacks.
"`There is a global culture of that, of how sweet it is to die for your liberty,'' Dr. Ashrawi said. "You can find quotations from the American revolution.''
She said that although she opposed any violence against
civilians, it was no time “to take the high moral ground' on the subject of
suicide bombing, with Israeli forces holding hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians under curfew in the West Bank. “We should make it a political
debate,'' she said.
Some signers of the petition raised the concern that the
Israeli military operation was further radicalizing Palestinians and
undercutting their message. But Israel says suicide bombing has forced its
action in the West Bank. Today Israeli forces continued to operate in seven of
eight Palestinian cities and towns, rounding up suspects in what the army called
a continuing hunt for militants. In Hebron, the army lifted the curfew to allow
students to take exams, then detained about 300 students at one college for
questioning, witnesses said.
Leaders of the peace camp in Israel heard in the original
appeal a call for a halt to all violence, a halt to the intifada---the
uprising---itself. “What they are saying is really, `Stop the violence,'''
said Galia Golan, a leader of the group Peace Now.
But the appeal was more narrowly tailored than that, not
using the word “suicide'' and referring only to attacks on “civilians in
Israel.'' That is understood by Palestinian as referring only to pre-1967 Israel
and not to the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel occupied in 1967. Palestinians
overwhelmingly support attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers in those areas,
arguing that such attacks amount to legal resistance.
Regarding all of historical Palestine as occupied, Hamas
renounces any negotiated settlement that results in a two-state solution. But
most Palestinians, including Mr. Arafat, say they seek a state only in the West
Bank and Gaza.
Dr. Khalil Shikaki, a pollster based in Ramallah, said
support for attacks on soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories was
“almost reaching the point of consensus, more than 90 percent.'' But suicide
attacks within pre-1967 Israel appeared to be losing support, he said.
In a poll in December, he said, 58 percent of the
Palestinian respondents said they supported such attacks. By May, that figure
had slipped to 52 percent, though fully 86 percent of Palestinians opposed
arresting those carrying out such attacks. The poll had a margin of sampling
error of three percentage points.
Dr. Shikaki called the published appeal “a very important
step in legitimizing the debate and taking it to the public level.''
Yet the leaders urging this reassessment are approaching
the subject gingerly. Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al Quds University
and the representative in Jerusalem of the Palestine Liberation Organization,
appeared June 29 on the Al Jazeera network with a leader of Hamas and the mother
of a Palestinian who had carried out a suicidal attack on a Gaza settlement.
Dr. Nusseibeh, a professor of philosophy, emphasized that
“there is general agreement that we naturally support resistance in general,''
according to a transcript provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
But he argued that there was a difference between “sacrifice of one's life for
defense'' and “sacrifice of one's life in an attack.''
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